Thyme Stems: Guide To When and How To Use Them in Recipes

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Thyme is a versatile herb that can be incorporated into many dishes without fear of altering their taste or flavors. It particularly complements desserts, as its oil and aroma enhance the flavors and add a sweet, rather than tangy, taste.

Can you eat thyme stems? Thyme stems are edible as long as they’re young and succulent. Once they get woody, they lose most of their flavors and become inedible. However, you can harvest the young, tender stems, chop them, and use them along with the leaves for extra flavors in your food.

Throwing away thyme stems or not harvesting them at all at the right time is such a waste. Read more to find out how to harvest and put thyme stems to good use.

Thyme Stems – What To Know

Thyme stems are as much an edible part of the herb as the leaves themselves, but unlike the leaves, the stems rarely have that fragrant oil that gives the herb its distinctive appeal. Still, they’re quite fragrant and succulent when young.

Are Thyme Stems Poisonous?

Thyme stems are not poisonous. They’re perfectly fine to eat and add to your soups, desserts, smoothies, and teas. However, they tend to get woody if left on the plant for too long. Woody thyme stems have fewer benefits than young ones.

What Parts of Thyme Are Edible?

All parts of the thyme that grow above the ground are edible. This includes the leaves, stems, and flowers. Although the flowers are the least flavorful part of the foliage, they can still be used to garnish dessert, or you can set them to float on a cup of thyme tea. If you happen to eat them, there’s no health risk. 

Tender vs. Woody Thyme Stems

If you’re cooking and the recipe calls for a sprig of thyme, that means you will need to add a stem of thyme with the leaves attached to it. However, you should use a fresh and young thyme stem. It’s easy to bend and is edible should you forget to remove it. 

When the stems age on the plant, they turn woody and become brown. Woody thyme stems have no flavors and should be removed from the food before serving. They’re harmless to eat, but they add little if anything to the dish.

Why Thyme Stems Become Woody

Thyme stems become woody as a sign of age. The stems that were green and succulent throughout the spring and summer become woody near the base of the plant. If left on the thyme, they won’t have leaves except near the tip, and they simply become dead weight. They use a lot of resources without giving back anything.

Can You Use Thyme Stems?

You can use thyme stems in cooking when the recipe calls for a sprig of thyme. Don’t use woody thyme stems as they’re more or less flavorless. 

What Is a Sprig of Thyme?

A sprig of thyme is a small, tender thyme stem with several smaller secondary stems and leaves attached to it. The young stems add flavor to the dish. However, the leaves often become detached from the stem during cooking. This allows you to fish out the thyme stems and discard them before serving.

Thyme Uses in Cooking

You can use thyme with desserts any time you can use mint or other flavorful and sweet herbs. Additionally, the oil in the thyme leaves makes them a great addition to marinades and roasted meat. The leaves and stems can be boiled to make a delicious tea that you can sweeten with honey. Add a few fresh sprigs to your cooking to give it savory flavors.

How To Remove Thyme Leaves

There are many ways you can remove thyme leaves from the stem. One way is to pluck each leaf by hand, but this can be tedious, especially if you need a lot of leaves.

An easy way to get the thyme leaves off the stem easily is to gently grasp the tip of the stem with one hand and slide your thumb and index finger of your other hand down the stem to strip the leaves effortlessly.. The leaves will fall one by one, and you can discard the stem.

Three Methods for Using Fresh Thyme in Recipes

Not everyone is a fan of thyme stems. Some people see them as mere sticks floating on the surface of the food and getting between the teeth when they eat them. Others find additional value and flavors to cooking the stems along with the leaves. Here are three ways of using fresh thyme leaves in recipes.

Remove Leaves Before Using

This method will appeal to the school of thought that considers thyme leaves to be the only part of the herb worth using in cooking. Thyme leaves maintain their taste and flavor as long as they are fresh and even after being dried. Remove the leaves from the stems, and use them in your cooking.

Add Whole Sprig and Remove Before Serving

Some recipes will list a whole sprig in the ingredients list. A sprig is a multiple-branched tender stem with thyme leaves attached to it. You’ll need to drop the whole sprig, stem and all. Before serving, you can fish out the stem from the pot.

Chop and Use Tender, Green Stems With Leaves

If you like to use the stem but don’t like it floating on the surface like a burned-out match, chop the tender thyme sprig into small pieces. Make sure the stem is green and succulent. Then add the whole lot to the cooking.

Related Questions:

Can You Eat Thyme Raw?

You can eat young thyme leaves raw. Add them to green salads, and garnish your ice cream and feta cheese dishes with them. Older leaves have a strong taste that’s hard to palate when eaten raw.

How Long Does Thyme Take To Dry?

Thyme takes a while to dry, especially if you want to dry out the stems along with the leaves. In a hot and dry climate, thyme sprigs could take up to a week to dry. Otherwise, you’ll have to leave them for two weeks before you can process them.


Thyme stems are edible and can be used in cooking along with the leaves as long as they’re green and succulent. Older stems turn woody and brown and lose a lot of their flavor.